The Fall of the House of Trump

08/09/2017 07:15 pm ET

The Republican Party establishment is abandoning President Trump. Not a surprise. Trump got the nomination by staging a hostile takeover of the party. The surprise is that it's happening so quickly -- just six months after Trump took office.

Trump got elected with a coalition of populists, conservatives and wary establishment Republicans. Populists liked his defiant style. Conservatives saw him as a tough guy who could finally deliver for them. The Republican establishment saw Trump as a useful idiot. They crossed their fingers and expected him to sign whatever legislation the Republican Congress put on his desk and keep his mouth shut. But he won't keep his mouth shut. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has written, ``If this was our Faustian bargain, then it was not worth it.''

Meanwhile, a bipartisan effort is underway to keep special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation going if President Trump tries to fire him. Some Republicans are already testing the waters for 2020 in case Trump doesn't run again. And if he does run? He's very likely to be challenged for the Republican nomination. One leading conservative is talking about creating a ``Committee Not to Renominate the President.''

``They see weakness in this president,'' Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said about his fellow Republicans. ``It's not a nice business we're in.''

Trump has record low poll numbers for a president this early in his administration -- just 33 percent approval in the Quinnipiac poll. Presidential approval ratings are the Dow Jones Industrial Average of Washington. Washington politicians are independent political entrepreneurs. They're all in business for themselves. If a president's approval ratings are strong, he has clout. He's good for business, and even members of the opposition party will try to get some of that business. If a president's approval ratings drop as low as Trump's have, members of his own party will shun him. Bad for business.

While the Republican establishment is abandoning Trump, movement conservatives are sticking with him, at least for the time being. He has been solid on their issues: abortion, taxes, immigration, education, guns, police accountability. affirmative action. The problem is that all those right-wing positions are unpopular with the general public.

Trump surprised everybody, including the military, when he announced a plan to reinstate the ban on transgender individuals serving in the armed forces. But two thirds of Americans believe that transgender people should be allowed to serve. In fact, by nearly two to one (63 to 34 percent), the public says that President Trump does not share their values.

Republicans can not fail to notice that, in a trial heat for next year's congressional election, voters now say they prefer a Democratic Congress over a Republican Congress by seven points (44 to 37 percent). The prospect of electoral disaster, like the prospect of being hanged, concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Washington is now facing several impending crises. The individual health insurance market may collapse if the federal government refuses to fund cost-sharing reductions. President Trump will blame Obamacare, but with Republicans in total control of Washington, it's very likely voters will hold Trump and his party responsible. If President Trump fails to pressure Congress to raise the debt ceiling, the U.S. will go into default on its loans. A resulting spike in interest rates could cause a serious recession.

North Korea is impossible to predict. It's the first test of President Trump's diplomatic skill and military prowess, neither of which has been much in evidence.

Meanwhile, Democrats are all in a twist over what their party's message should be. Actually, anti-Trump sentiment may be the only message they need to win in 2018. Look at what anti-Obama sentiment did for Republicans in 2010. Some Democrats worry that they could make the same mistake Republicans made in 1998, when they assumed that the Monica Lewinsky scandal would pay off for them at the polls (Democrats ended up gaining five House seats). But there's one big difference between now and 1998. In 1998, the economy was booming and President Clinton's job approval rating averaged 64 percent. Trump's is barely half that.

Democrats have an enormous opportunity to emerge, Phoenix-like, from the ruins of the Trump presidency. How? By doing what successful political parties have always done in this country: create a coalition. A coalition is made up of diverse interests that join together to pursue a shared objective: ``If you want to stop Trump -- for whatever reason -- you're one of us. No further questions.''

A coalition is different from a movement. Supporters of a movement are expected to agree on everything. For conservatives, that means the entire conservative agenda, from taxes to abortion to immigration to climate change. Disagree on anything and you can be declared a heretic and expelled from the movement. The tea party wants to act as the enforcement arm of the conservative movement.

Some anti-Trump candidates and operatives are already making plans to offer independent alternatives in next year's elections. That could split the anti-Trump vote and help re-elect Republicans. Democrats need to welcome the growing number of voters who want to stop Trump. And not look for reasons to say, ``Sorry, you're not one of us.''

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